Wednesday, October 31, 2012

From Snow to Desert (Colorado to Arizona)

I was fully dressed and ready for snow when I left the motel to go to Denver airport. It was snow white everywhere along the road which was full of fall (spring) colours yesterday. Hmm..that’s nature…always full of surprises!!!
Denver, Co when I left my hotel
After 2 hours of a flight I landed at the Tempe airport, Phoenix, Arizona. Oh..dear me it was 300 Celsius and I was baking inside me as all layers of clothing was too much for that weather. Anyway it was a very short ride from airport to hotel and I got back to summer clothing before I went to look for some lunch. Tempe and Phoenix is so beautiful and very different from other cities that I visited. Full of sunshine and all desert habitats and I was already in love with Phoenix. Since the air was so dry and very low in humidity I was walking comfortably along streets under very hot sun but I had my water bottle in my hand. City was very friendly and I was comfortable walking along streets and absorbing urban and desert environment until it was 8pm.
Phoenix, Arizona when I arrived from Denver after 2 hrs of flight
Next day morning I went the Phoenix zoo to meet Jeff Williamson who is the President of Arizona Zoological Society. He was waiting for me with two bags full of material and some books of Richard Louv who is one of my favorite authors. I was very much looking forward to meet Richard Louv but he is in Canada these days but his office directed me to meet Jeff to discuss my future plans with him. I was told that Richard Louv is aware of my meeting with Jeff and taking our discussion forward. Working in collaboration with Children and Nature Network is one of my goals and it was fulfilled today as Jeff was very supportive and encouraging for that. He took me around the zoo and also around Desert Botanical garden. 

Oh...I saw the Road Runner, for the first time in my life when Jeff was taking me around. Roadrunner is the fastest running speed ever clocked for flying birds, although it is not nearly as fast as the flightless Ostrich. ( 

Jeff was kind enough to make some arrangements for me to visit Audubon Society of Arizona. Wow! It was a waste land given to Audubon Society on lease and now they have turned it into a interactive environmental center. (
Open space class room at Audubon society -Rio Salado Habitat Restoration Area

Cathy, Sarah me and Jeff at Rio Salado Habitat restoration center

They were very happy to share their educational material and promised to assist me when I am ready to have our own training center for grass root level youth. So networking is taking place!
The last meeting was with the director of Educational department of Heard Museum Jaclyn Roessel. (  It is all about Native American Art and Culture. Jacylyn herself is having roots for Navaho Tribe ( which is one of the prominent tribes of Native Americans. So it was very interesting to discuss her personal views as well as objectives of the museum.

Finally all other fellows are also in the town as we all are heading to Grand Canyon for mid retreat of the fellowship programme. So its already 5 weeks gone!!

Denver, Fort Collins and Boulder - Colorado, USA

Next destination was Colorado and that was the 5th state I visited during Eisenhower fellowship. I flew to Denver and that was my 10th city in the 5th state. Gregory Inn was a nice place which has been booked for my accommodation and I felt very happy to be there as it’s a small house which belongs to Steve a very kind person. The experience there is totally different from staying in a luxury hotel in the middle of the city.
From Denver I took a Gray Hound bus next day to go to Fort Collins for my next meeting. One hour ride on Gray Hound bus gave me the opportunity to understand some of the living standards of US citizens. There were many homeless people even in Denver but not as bad as in San Francisco. I felt really sorry about them when I saw many homeless people along streets and near bus stands and how badly they are into alcoholisms and smoking. In my mind I was grateful to Sri Lankan government for banding public drinking and smoking when I started coughing while walking along the streets here in USA. 

Meeting David  Bartecchi the executive Director to Village Earth was very successful as we both felt that our organizations are very much on the same direction to achieve our goals. Village Earth is a non for profit based in Fort Collins which is working towards empowering grass root communities and organizations. Their strategy is very interesting and I realized that without knowing about such strategy we have also been working on the same line.

Next day I took a bus to Boulder, Colorado. It is a very beautiful city with much higher living standards than Denver. I was told that Boulder is very much into sports and they have some programmes for homeless people too. First meeting was at Naropa University (. I felt very comfortable at Naropa as their teaching is very much based on Buddhist Philosophy. It was their sustainability day and all were excited about introducing the sustainability statement for the university. Dr. Anne Parker and I had many ideas to share with each other and it was very interesting to see their commitment for better environment. Teresa Eastburn (Terry) was at the entrance to the Naropa University when I finished the meeting with Dr. Anne to take me to next appointment. Terri was not a new face to me as we met at naaee conference in Oakland and she suggested me a visit to NCAR (National Center for Atmospheric Research) when I described our climate change project. So she was kind enough to give a guided tour around Boulder city before we headed to NCAR. NACR is situated at a very beautiful landscape and the architect was very particular about the environment when he designed NCAR in Boulder 1960 ( The story reminded me kandalama Hotel ( designed by Geoffrey Bava the well know architect in Sri Lanka.
View of Boulder, CO
Naropa University in Boulder, CO

Exhibition panels at NCAR raising awareness on Climate Change

After having a visit around NCAR and meeting Raj Pandaya and Roger Wakimoto the director of NCAR, Terry dropped me at Sherpa’s restaurant for my next meeting with Prof. Luise Chawla and Gene her husband. She is a at University of Colorado and having done some work at Butterfly Peace Garden in Batticoloa Sri Lanka. It was very interesting meeting and successfully concluded with the invitation for writing few articles about our work at ECO-V (reconciliation and environment/children and Environment) for one of their journals.
With Teresa Eastburn 

Oh..dear me! A very long day with 3 successful meetings and thanks to Eisenhower fellowship programme for arranging me a taxi to come back to Denver after a very late night. Goodness me! It was snowing when we came out of the restaurant. That was the first snow fall in Colorado for the season and it was 3 inches heavy by morning next day when I left to Arizona. 

The morning from my room in Denver

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Next stop was Seattle Washington State

Portland was full of information about positive movement towards sustainability but I didn't have much time there to explore everything. It had a very good movement towards cycling as a way of transportation which was very attractive to me.

Dana Ecelberger who was with us in 2005/2006 in Sri Lanka participating our field trips and helping us for our projects was always a great admirer of ECO-V. Even she left Sri Lanka after her studies, she still is our family friend and ECO-V member. So she was working with my programme officer Leigh to make my time more productive in USA and wanted me to explore more in her home area - Seattle. Since Dana knew my interests it was very easy for both me and Leigh as Dana came up with more ideas for the places and people I should visit and meet during the fellowship travel. Rain gardens in urban environments (to control run off), organic farms, woodlands, Botanical gardens and resources for conservation education were on her list of things to do for me within 4 days with her. Even the weekend with her was relaxing but full of sharing ideas while traveling around Seattle. Even we ended up discovering a fox skin kept for sale at a second hand shop which was not a pleasant item for both of us but it was a learning experience.
Me and Dana 
A fox skin (about 60 years old) with four legs which is unusual
How they have used animal skins for fashion which is not accepted these days (luckily)

One day morning I was surprised to hear that Bald Eagle is a frequent visitor to her home garden so she can't leave her cat outside while she is not at home. I really wanted to see a Bald Eagle as I have read about it during my post graduate studies on birds. Next day Dana was taking me to her sisters place at Port Townsend and a big bird started flying at our eye level in front of the windscreen. WOW!!!! It was the Bald Eagle. A raptor at our eye level in the middle of a bridge and then flew so close, parallel to the car for about 2 minutes. I was so thrilled and surprised and looking at it with my mouth opened. Such a charisma in that bird!!! So that was one of my WOW moments during fellowship - watching the America's National Emblem LIVE! for the first time in my life. I wish I took a photo but I was too busy watching it and didn't want to take my eyes off from this black and white huge bird.

"Rain garden" as rain water management system
After 6 days in Seattle it was the  time to say good bye to Dana but having hopes is meeting again soon as she is very much looking forward to come back to Sri Lanka.Thank you Dana and Curtis for giving me accommodation and treating me so well. I felt I had a family in USA.See you both again soon!
My next destination was Denver Oregon.

Monday, October 22, 2012

News from Portland, Oregon, USA

After the naaee conference in Oakland I flew to Portland where Paul venture was happily waiting for me at arrival terminal. It was the first time in this tour some body I know was waiting for me. So I was not worried about calling for a taxi or a hotel shuttle and more relaxed as it was less work for me. It was such a nice feeling to meet somebody who was a teacher 6 years ago and then became a good family friend and now again who is more a peer to share common ideas, views and working together for a common goal...that is "environmental sustainability"...

Touching a Red Wood tree for the first time in my life
Paul has been communicating with Leigh Cohen my programme officer at Eisenhower fellowships and came up with a great plan for 4 days in Portland (Oregon) and Vancouver (Washington state). It was more relaxing Sunday where Paul took me on a long trip for more observational learning which I always loved in my life. Started with a walk along a path where I learnt about Native American culture, then a local farmers' market to talk about traditional food and tasted some rare apples too. Then a long drive along Columbia River Gorge where we talked about different landscapes while walking and driving, river flows, glaciers, water falls, invasive plants (but berries are lovely as I couldn't stop picking them up), traditional jam making industry (tasted all 20 more recipes...yammm....).
Paths are full of information about Native Americans 

Native American art
River Columbia

Wow...its a great a great relaxing but learning day. Paul is a great guide and great teacher of course a great friend!!!
Next day was again learning!  I had a good exposure to a class on Ethno-Botany. It was a field based class where they taught about traditions of Native Americans where there are more commons between our cultures which are rich of sustainability, living with nature. I had a good exposure to the teaching methods, and met some great people who love to hear about my work.

Afternoon was a visit to a high school where I had to talk about Sri Lankan environmental conservation and our river journey we had last year. First it was only for 30 children but the school teacher was so interested so I had to talk for 60 children as they combined 2 classes. It was taken very positively by the teachers and students as they are involved with community projects local and overseas.
Presentation at high school class

Next day we had more "walks and talks" and met with Sharif Abdulla a very good friend of Sri Lanka and a volunteer to Sarvodaya. I have met him several time in Sri Lanka so it was a nice surprise meeting him through Paul. It was also a big surprise to find out he is the author of "The Power of One" a book that we discussed few years back. Sharif directed me to "yes" magazine where I had to give an interview about how our river journey was linked up with reconciliation process in Sri Lanka. So it was the time for me to talk about environmental conservation, youth and peace!

So thank you Paul and Koa taking me around Vancouver and Portland, making me happy and helping me to learn and experience Nature!.
Koa you are a human!

Paul, me and koa!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Eisenhower fellowship travel continues...

Its my 3rd week in USA. I hardly have time to sit and write blogs. The easiest way is write something on face book as its quick and no need to write details. So I tried to keep in touch with our 1100+ ECO-V face book members. But I need to update all our well wishes those who are not on the face book.

After a week in Philadelphia I flew to West Coast while other fellows went to East Coast. Past 3 weeks were very busy, packed with appointments, following the maps, getting into buses, Muni (bus service in San Francisco) or BART (underground) or if I was in a big hurry then taxis. Communicating via email and working with unfamiliar smart phone (we all got one phone which we have access to internet too) also took my time. On top of that I managed to keep my family happy. So I have to get up at 5.30 in the morning everyday no matter where you are to skype with my two boys and Thushara. That's very important than the fellowship :)

My time in San Francisco was really tight. Everyday I had to meet at least two people or visit places. I had a broad overview of US West Cost conservation strategies which are very green and systematic.
Visiting Spirit Rock Centre to take a training on Anxiety and Mindfulness, Meeting Joanna Macy who is an Eco Philosopher are two best opportunities that I got in my life.
View of Spirit Rock Meditation center in San Rafael, CA, USA

I learnt more about coastal ecosystem management, Climate change issues, park and recreational areas (Chrissy Filed was once an air field and today its a green area for all).
With Marc Holms from Bay Institute in front of Golden Gate Bridge

In front of Crissy Field Center with Director Christy Rocca

With Greg Scott who runs an organic farm at Solaria

Met wonderful people like Greg Scott from Emergence Farms and Gardens who really try to save Mother Earth with innovative thinking. So It was very short but productive exposure for me to meet all these wonderful people and visit amazing places.

Then I moved to Oakland to participate at 41st annual conference of North American Association for Environmental Education (NAAEE). My expression was WOW!!!! It was full of Environmental educators mainly from USA and from 20 other countries too. Total participation was around 900. For the first time felt this world is full of very nice people who really do care about Mother Earth. There were many of us who are environmental educators who speak common topics like inter-connectivity, finding the missing links with Mother earth, children, youth etc.
NAAEE Conference

Meeting, inspiring people like Craig Kielburger and a 12 year old author Pawan Gowda, watching Disney world latest movie Chimpanzee, networking with Children for nature network, Rain forest Alliance, Project Learning Tree, and many other organisations are the highlights of the conference. Three days at conference was full of inspiring moments. Thanks to Eisenhower fellowship I met many like minded people who are passionate about EE.

Now I am in Portland and will write to you again when I get some free time. Than you for being with me. 

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Eisenhower fellowship in USA

I am writing to you as an Eisenhower fellow for 2012. It was a great achievement for me personally to get nominated and selected as an Eisenhower fellow for South Asian region in 2012. This year there are 21 fellows from South Asian region (Sri Lanka, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh) travelling in USA for 8 weeks meeting leaders, visiting institutions and getting training in their fields.

I am visiting 10 states in USA to meet people in environmental conservation field, attending conferences, and getting trainings to strengthen my skills.

the fellowship started with the South Asian regional conference in Sri Lanka where all the fellows met in Sri Lanka on the 27th of September. Then we all flew to Philadelphia where the Eisenhower fellowship programme head office is based at. At the moment I am getting the orientation along with 20 other fellows, planing the travel and meeting some leaders here. It was very interesting to share ideas, experience with all other fellows in the region who had given some significant leadership to their countries in their own fields.

I will update you all about my experience in USA for next 7 weeks.
With John Wolf president of EF fellowship

Sri Lankan fellows at regional conference in Sri Lanka

With Leigh Cohen the programme officer who arranges all meetings for me